Qualifying for Quicker Quarantine: How Recent Changes to CDC Guidance May Allow Employers to Safely Return Employees Exposed to COVID-19 to Work in Less Than 14 Days

Pullman & Comley - Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits Law

Employers should be aware that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the “CDC”) recently revised its quarantine guidelines for people who may have been exposed to COVID-19. According to the CDC, quarantine helps prevent the spread of disease that may occur before people know they are sick or if they are infected with the virus without feeling symptoms. People in quarantine should stay home, separate themselves from others, monitor their health, and follow directions from their state or local health department. Quarantine is appropriate when people may have been exposed to COVID-19 through “close contact,” meaning they have been within 6 feet of someone who is positive for a total of 15 minutes or more in a 24-hour period.

While the CDC has generally recommended a 14-day quarantine since the beginning of the pandemic, the new guidance now suggests that a person may only be required to quarantine for 7 or 10 days in the event that he/she had close contact with a person who has the virus depending on the circumstances.  Since the availability of COVID-19 testing varies, the CDC has addressed both testing and non-testing scenarios.

Under the new CDC framework, if no symptoms are experienced from the “close contact,” a person may discontinue quarantine 10 days after the exposure without testing. When testing is available, quarantine may end after 7 days if no symptoms were experienced and a negative test result is obtained at least five days after the exposure. Although testing may be performed 5 days after the exposure, the CDC notes that this is in anticipation of testing delays, and that quarantine may not be discontinued earlier than after day 7.

While the CDC’s revised guidance is certainly not a cure-all for employers facing staffing shortages, it does appear to provide employers with a safe alternative which would permit quarantining employees to return to work a bit earlier after potential exposures than in the past.

Notwithstanding the above, it is crucial that employers remain diligent and proactive across the board to avoid potential liability related to COVID-19 as infection rates continue trending upward. Ensuring that comprehensive COVID-19 policies and procedures are in place is a strong first step and should be a priority for every organization. It is equally important for employers to ensure these policies are updated regularly to reflect the seemingly-daily changes in guidance at the local, state, and federal levels Employers should also review and update employee handbooks and other policies to ensure consistency. (See our blog post on the importance of updating Employee Handbooks here).

No matter the size of your business, we recommend you implement the following COVID-19 policies and maintain documentation of compliance:

  • Safe Workplace Policy
  • Out of State Travel Policy
  • Family First Coronavirus Response Act (“FCRA”) Leave Request Form
  • Remote Work Agreement(s) (temporary and/or permanent as applicable)
  • Self-Certification to Return to Work Post Quarantine/Isolation
  • COVID-19 Exposure Response Guidelines (for management)
  • COVID-19 Testing Policy (if applicable)

Informal or outdated policies create significant risk for employers, and organizations without clear, written protocols are subject to potential liability including employee claims and governmental fines and penalties. Pullman & Comley has policy templates and other useful resources available to aid employers in navigating the confusing web of laws, regulations, and guidance. 

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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